Lawmakers Call for Caribbean Counternarcotics Strategy

By Matthew Harwood

Despite these problems, resources are scarce for counternarcotics activity in the Caribbean, particularly around unincorporated U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Although the Coast Guard interdicted over 1,700 pounds of cocaine in Puerto Rico from January 2009 and August 2011 and none in Miami during that same timeframe, the Coast Guard Office in San Juan, has to rely on assets from Miami to reinforce their fleet,” Rep. William Keating (D-MA) said.

The lack of attention on Puerto Rico is particularly questionable, according to Keating, the subcommittee’s ranking member, because Puerto Rico’s population is 3.6 million more than Miami’s.

To make matter worse, observed Keating, the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) has been accused of “widespread corruption and abuse.’ In a September 2011 findings letter, the Department of Justice called it “an agency in profound disrepair.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) followed this up on Tuesday with a report harshly critical of the PRPD. “These abuses do not represent isolated incidents or aberrant behavior by a few rogue officers,” the report said. “Such police brutality is pervasive and systemic, island-wide and ongoing. The PRPD is steeped in a culture of unrestrained abuse and near-total impunity.”

“[T]he homeland security resources, equipment and personnel that are deployed to those areas are not on par with other parts of the United States with less challenging circumstances,” said Keating. “This is an issue that requires a comprehensive strategy.”

A few weeks ago, Holder agreed, telling the House Judiciary Committee that “When one looks at the Caribbean, Puerto Rico in particular, I think we need to have a strategy,” he said. Last December, Holder also told the same committee that drug trafficking in Puerto Rico and the broader Caribbean “is a national security issue that we must face.”

♦ Photo by Marion Doss/Flickr



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